Beijingers' anger at foul-ups spreading like virus

BEIJING: Days after China conceded it bungled the handling of the SARS outbreak, public anger over the foul-ups is spreading like a virus. 

“They've made a complete mess of this,” said one office worker while waiting to order a chicken sandwich at a nearly deserted McDonald's restaurant here.  

“The leaders messed up and people have died,” said the man, who only gave his surname, Zhong. 

Nervous Beijingers have donned virus-filtering masks and emptied shelves of rice and disinfectant amid rumours that the capital would be sealed off. Thousands of students, temporary workers and expatriates have fled, while others debate nightly whether to go or stay. 

Chinese officials claimed for weeks that they had a handle on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, and ignored claims by doctors and other health experts that the epidemic was growing.  

Attitudes have changed since, and drastically. 

Still, many Chinese said the sluggish start and the state media's initial silence about the outbreak has left them feeling unprepared – and angry. 

“One week ago, the government hardly told us anything about SARS,” said a hotel waitress here, who only gave her surname, Chen. 

“Now we're having a big campaign, but I still have suspicions that we're not getting all the information. They're still covering things up,” said the woman, who was also upset because the hotel's dining room staff weren't allowed to wear face masks. – AP  

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